I recently had the opportunity to watch The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and, as I’m sure was intended, it was a thought-provoking experience. It is for many reasons a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking. The research behind it left no stone unturned and the archival footage included in the ten-part series is awe-inspiring. It is well written and well narrated by Stone. It is thorough and informative and enlightens the viewer to the many unseemly aspects of governance in the greatest nation in the history of mankind.
Less thorough and more friendly than Stone’s treatment of the USA is his examination of the Soviet Union which he depicts as a victim, one who heroically struck back with righteous fury against the evil forces of Hitler’s Germany and later against the oppression of western capitalism.
Hitler and his Third Reich were indeed evil and crossed every line of decency developed over the centuries to protect the rights of man. The Nazis needed to be destroyed and destroyed they were under the pulverizing march of the Red Army. It would be easy to see these events cinematically; the good guys win, the bad guys lose, everyone lives happily ever after, the end. But real life isn’t a movie. The line between the good guys and the bad guys is often blurry, frequently no line exists. Such is the case with Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany, but you wouldn’t know it from watching The Untold History of the United States.
Oliver Stone briefly touched on the enormous importance of de-Stalinization under Khrushchev but the moment came and went without much attention. In all fairness, it’s not called The Untold History of the Soviet Union. Thankfully the history of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is well documented.
Under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, the Russian people were subjected to one of the most monstrous abuses of power in history. R.J. Rummel’s high-end estimate of the total number murdered under Stalin is over one hundred million but the most probable estimate is just shy of seventy million. It’s not possible to verify whether or not Stalin actually said, “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.” Whether he said it or not, it sounds like something Stalin would say. And to a degree – a sick, twisted degree – he was right. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter if he murdered one hundred and fifty million people or if it was only sixty-one million.
Only sixty-one million.
Whatever the number, the Stalin regime crossed lines and exceeded the already nightmarish excesses of the Nazis.
There is a growing number of people in our country who find themselves attracted to socialism for a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s because they really do believe in Marx’s Labor theory of value. Maybe they believe the workers really should seize the means of production. Maybe they’re lazy and they hate working and they hate capitalism and they feel they’re owed something by mere virtue of their existence. One way or the other these folks are more than a little confused and for all of Oliver Stone’s talent as a filmmaker, he doesn’t help clear the air.
Make no mistake: socialism fails anywhere and everywhere it is tried and if it hasn’t yet, just wait. And it doesn’t matter if it’s National Socialism or democratic socialism. That’s how the apologists of statism justify their admiration for a system that has a track record of zero success. It’s not socialism, it’s democratic socialism and we’ll get it right next time, they say. Every variation has some minute differences in procedure and policy but at the end of the day, they’re simply different expressions of the same underlying philosophy of collectivist statism. It’s a difference without a distinction.
Most important, it always fails and it does so at the expense of human life and the standard of living for those fortunate enough to survive the inevitable collapse. Sometimes it collapses by war such as Hitler’s Germany. Other times it collapses because governments are incapable of efficiently and rationally allocating resources because the information necessary to control an economy is dispersed throughout those individuals acting in markets and is therefore unobtainable. It could be a combination of factors but the bottom line is that every expression of statist collectivism fails and it doesn’t matter what you call it.
The Untold History of the United States is, to a degree, as much a defense of the USSR as it is a full frontal assault on America. We aren’t a perfect nation and we certainly do not have a perfect government, it’s actually quite terrible for the most part. But it’s not Stalin’s Russia. Our rights are under assault on multiple fronts but we aren’t being starved to death or rounded up and purged by the tens of millions. We wouldn’t stand for it. We have guns and there are more of us than there are of them. If our government isn’t scared of us, it should be, and that probably explains the emergence of Washington, D.C.’s perverse surveillance state.
If it were up to many in the halls of power, and the millions of voters who empower them, we would become a full-fledged, centrally planned, collectivist police state. Dissent would not be allowed which means free speech would almost certainly be completely curtailed. Extra-judicial incarceration and executions would be the norm. Considering the Homan Square black site in Chicago and the rampant murder and abuse of citizens by law enforcement, one might be able to make a case that we’re already there or at least very much on the way. But we can fight back. That’s what the Second Amendment is for. Forcibly removing the government by way of armed insurrection is built into our laws. Coming from the Left, Oliver Stone would no doubt lobby for the removal or dilution of our legal right to defend ourselves from our government. The presence of this garbage at www.oliverstone.com all but proves as much.
The Untold History of the United States is informative and enlightening. It shows a side of our country that is unpleasant and uncomfortable. But it’s statist propaganda. For all the abuses of American capitalism and imperialism, I wouldn’t trade places with the regimes of the USSR and Mao’s China for a million dollars or with a gun to my head. I suspect it would more than likely be the latter.
With this docu-series, Oliver Stone managed to educate and spread ignorance simultaneously. By glossing over the horrors of Stalin, by minimizing them compared to America’s transgressions, Stone gives the impression that the US and our system of markets and free enterprise is the greater of two evils. It’s a false comparison. While the Soviets were starving millions to death and driving their economy and country into the ground, market capitalism and largely free trade were lifting billions out of poverty. And it’s still working today while Venezuela collapses and multiple EU member states circle the drain.
I doubt Stone’s next work will touch on any of those facts.
Original artwork by Jesse Comeau